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Grief Cultures

Hello on this brisk but sunny December day,

As I write this, I think of a recent gathering that included diverse people from our county.

The purpose of the gathering was to share our concerns about our country, our families, our lives, and our responsibilities and yearnings to be persons who contribute with integrity, purpose, and efficacy to all these levels within our society.

The person to speak first was a lady who brought with her a reading about how at this Holiday Season, we often share memories and life experiences that evoke a sense of grieving. Ironically, I, too, had brought an article about transmuting grief into transformation. As each of us shared and the group dialogued, we all agreed that this is a time of great concern, shared pain, and deep conviction that we cannot stay silent when so much, from the survival of our families to the survival of our way of living and being in society, is being severely challenged,

perhaps to the breaking point. At the same time, we shared our gratitude for the opportunities to meet, to learn, work, play and build our dreams and communities. We are hopeful and committed.

So, with the possibility that you and those with whom you share space are experiencing similar fissures about you, here are some thoughts. I am confident that, together, we can overcome our disparities, disagreements, and discouragements to realize our fuller potentials and personal purposes. To do so requires a commitment to turn our adversities and traumas into transformations of ourselves, our relationships, and ultimately of our communities and cultures.

With these things in mind, please take time to consider the following chart that compares two diametrically opposed types of cultures. Please do so with an openness to identify characteristics of the culture that you call your own.

Chart of continuum between sustainable and non-sustainable cultures

Sustainable-holistically focused paradigm

Non-sustainable episodic/expedient paradigm 

Creative and playful

Obsessive and rigid

Respects all, leading to greater engagement

Judgmental, tribal, controlling, divisive

Sense of agency and generativity

Helpless with no vision of transcendence

Patient, flexible, open to new options

Impatient, stressful, rigid expectations


Closed and arrogant


Self-obsessed and manipulative

Synergetic energy-expressions

Discordant and/or distractive energy-expressions

Increasing collaboration of systems’ creativity

Increasing disorganization and decay of systems

Empowerment of whole system decision making

Power inequities, omissions in decision making

Shared & witnessed pains leading to true intimacy

Pains hidden, submission to position powers

Politics are principled and respectful

Politics are self-serving & emotionally reactive

Leadership is authentic and shared

Leadership is positional and autocratic

Families are transgenerational & transformational

Families are fragmented, anxious, & ineffectual

Relationships function as learning systems

Relationships follow precedent & are low energy

Religious organizations are holistic, leading to ever expanding awareness, gratitude, and commitments to live fully & generously

Religious organizations are informational, prescriptive, with justice seen as retributive, not restorative

So, it was with these kinds of concerns and observations that we came together as a collective to consider paths forward. Among the things shared were multiple ideas that led to a full, robust dialogue about how grieving can lead us forward. Below are some of the salient points that came as we shared and formed options for us going forward, some for individual, others for collective action. Take a look at these and consider where you are at this point of time. Then begin a creative process; formulating, bridging forward, and implementing your plan for active engagement as a member of a greater community and culture at large.

Grief is a force. It is as sure to visit us as is rain to fall during some of our parades. It is part of our passages. And, with no passages, it is impossible to grow into our full purpose and potential.

There is no one way to grieve. It is not linear but rather interactive, progressive, regressive, still, and ultimately hopeful forward. But without exception, there is no way forward without grieving. 

Grief is often wild and untamable. It can lead us to places that seem unexplainable. But multiple universal elements are integral to completing the work of grieving. Among these….

  1. Grief cracks us open. Things are no longer intact and there is no turning back. It can be said that some people are cracked open-never to recover. Others choose to see the light that comes through the crack and allow it to enter as energy forward.

  2. We protest the loss, the pain, the shock. Power surges. We make demands, feel and doubt what we had believed in and thought to be true.

  3. We intuitively know that having a witness to our grief is essential for our completion of the passage, landing on solid ground.

  4. We lament, telling our story over and over as if we could put things all back together again. Finally, not storying ourselves backward, we stop our efforting, realizing that we are not all powerful.

  5. This begins a period of uncertainty. We may wander, not sure how to proceed. Mirabai Starr calls this period “The Abyss – Radical unknowing.

  6. The completion of our grief comes when we begin to hear and heed life’s calling to forgive what has happened to us and others we love. This requires an eyes-wide-open seeing what has happened, honoring what has been lost, acknowledging that we feel pain, sadness, loss. But, also included is our conscious decision to be present to life’s calling. At this point we complete the process of experiencing the grief, letting go of what isn’t to be, and restructuring our lives in ways that honor both what is and what can be. Thus, we develop a new vision that is inclusive but not overwhelming or defining. We can now tell our story in such a way that it becomes an encouragement to others who are grieving or who have gotten stuck in their grief. And, in a way that allows us to be true to the wholeness of our life journey while being open to new possibilities. 


As you prepare for your Holiday activities, I wish you connections with truth, joy, empowering choices, love filled encounters, and wisdom for our upcoming year!

With gratitude and some very promising plans for this coming year, 

Margaret 12-20-2023

(As one of my favorite journalists would say, “Watch this space!”)

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